Buy the ticket, take the ride: Four LEO contributors recap GonzoFest

Michael: Though the brilliance and madness of Hunter S. Thompson deserves a lasting legacy, the commodification of Thompson as a hard-living creative rogue keeps brushing dangerously close to college dorm fare a la shirtless Jim Morrison and Bob Marley rising against the oppression of your RA’s newly-imposed hall curfew. It’s a common fate for the cult hero. But regardless of how Ron Whitehead or his Storm Generation outlaw poet persona strikes you, his vision is in the right place — propagating the work of Thompson without trivializing it. Corporate presence remained minimal, save for the intrinsically amusing Goose Island “Gonzo Gear” sign (hey, you gotta offset some costs), while the art booths and onstage talent were all homegrown.

The fifth GonzoFest came replete with fascinating juxtaposition, undoubtedly fitting for the man who wrangled the world of objective journalism into a vehicle for outlandish personal narrative. The few hundred attendees at the Big Four lawn represented an intersection of greaser punks, Urban Outfitters catalog enthusiasts, families with strollers, older folks who bought a ticket and took the ride a fair share of times, a few Thompson cosplayers and quite an overt police presence. A business casual Mayor Fischer stood beside Whitehead adorned in a purple Nudie-style blazer, declaring Louisville “Gonzoville” on stage. One of the vendor booths dealt specifically with water pistols and sequined fedoras. Aerial silk dancers and an ice cream motorcycle manned by dudes in tuxedos flanked the stage. GonzoFest kept Louisville unequivocally weird in a manner that didn’t feel forced, warts and all — which was honestly a little refreshing.

photo by Nik Vechery
photo by Nik Vechery

Kelsey: My friends and I arrived about 4 p.m., just in time to see Mayor Fischer proclaim Louisville, “Gonzoville” and the announcer shout out, “Fischer for senator, for governor, for PRESIDENT!”  “OK,” I thought, “I can get down with this.” Being at a festival birthed to celebrate counter culture and Gonzo journalism crafted by HST, and seeing your city’s own mayor is pretty gnarly, in my humble opinion – yet another reason my love for this town is forever growing. That was just it, though, where exactly was the counter culture? After waiting in an incredibly long line for my Goose Island IPA, I meandered around the booths where locals had their wares splayed out for purchase – beautiful jewelry and super interesting art decked the festival boundaries, yet I wanted more. Where was the weird? Where was the freaky? Wouldn’t Hunter S. Thompson want a large crucifix of Richard Nixon in the middle of the lawn or cocaine being fired out of a cannon somewhere?

We enjoyed the musical samplings of Thirty Spokes, energetic “roots rock,” that didn’t disappoint, and parked our donks on a picnic table. I asked my comrades what their vibe was on Gonzo, and it turns out my friends were yearning for some kind of mind fuck, as well, “I mean, maybe there are Hunter S. Thompsons everywhere and we just don’t know it!” said Lindsey.  “Now, that’s a very Gonzo way to think about things,” I said.  Make no mistake — we were drinking beers under the glorious sun on a 70 degree Saturday, listening to some solid tunes.  Life was good. And later in the evening I was receiving Snapchats and seeing Instagram videos of the giant Squallis Puppets looming over a swelling crowd – you can’t tell me some dude wasn’t having an extremely existential moment right then and there, thinking he was actually HST himself — so it seems as though things may have gotten a little more interesting as the night fell. It was a well-run, Louisville-crafted event I’ll continue supporting each year. But if we can get some Hell’s Angels to come out and promote their campaign for sheriff next time, that would be swell, too.

photo by Nik Vechery
photo by Nik Vechery

Ethan: I enjoyed my time drunkenly swaying to the music while aerial dancers performed to my right and some guy in stilts juggled bowling pins to my left, playing “Where’s Hunter?” with the many impersonators crawling through the crowd. As the sun set and the Big Four Bridge began its neon light show behind the stage, I watched as everyone crowded around to enjoy the show. And even though the event didn’t live up to my wild expectations, it did my wretched soul good to see so many people come out to honor the Doctor. It’s nice to know that his work lives on, and that the city he grew up in pays tribute.

photo by Nik Vechery
photo by Nik Vechery

Scott: Exaggeration of how good a band or musician is often runs wild, which makes it tough to get excited for live shows without setting yourself up for disappointment — but 1200 is every bit as talented as people will tell you. Thinking back on GonzoFest, everything else seems to be completely overshadowed by 1200’s performance. That’s not to say the rest of the day sucked — the entire music lineup was solid, the vendors were cool, we couldn’t have gotten better day drinking weather — it’s more a testament to how good 1200 is. When I write about hip-hop, I try to breakdown what I hear/see based on four categories — vocal style, production quality, what they have to stay and stage presence. 1200 has all four on lock.

photo by Nik Vechery
photo by Nik Vechery

Michael: In his early evening keynote, Ron Whitehead announced Kentucky Colonelships for the organizers and crew, including The Monkey Wrench’s Dennie Humphrey (home of the first Gonzofest) and actor Bill Murray. Despite the campaign to bring Bill Murray to the ’ville via, well, “Bring Bill to the ’Ville,” he did not show. Which is fine. Bill Murray’s walking meme antics (OMG, did you hear what he did?) are super boring anyway, and Gonzofest proved they have a more interesting things going on. If you like supporting your scene, pretty awesome local art, an utterly inexplicable landscape and don’t mind waiting a long time for beer, GonzoFest is a worthwhile ticket to buy and ride to take.

About the Authors

Buy the ticket, take the ride: Four LEO contributors recap GonzoFest

Scott Recker is an editor at LEO. Follow him on Twitter at @scottmrecker.

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Buy the ticket, take the ride: Four LEO contributors recap GonzoFest

Michael C. Powell keeps his spear sharp in many creative endeavors, freelancing as a writer, designer, and photographer whose work has appeared in VICE, The Guardian, PASTE Magazine, The Daily Swarm, IMPOSE, Consequence of Sound, and many others. Michael, who sometimes authors under the nom de plume Kenny Bloggins, loves Twitter and actively abuses the platform at @kbloggins. He is the creator of Welp!, LEO Weekly’s food features gone gonzo.

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